By Ben Bagley
Led by eight seniors, Western’s women’s rowing team is hungry to return to their championship ways in the upcoming 2020 season.
The Vikings are coming off of a 2019 season that saw them finish in third place behind the Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Central Oklahoma. In the 18-year history of the Women’s NCAA Division II Rowing Championships, Western has had 17 teams qualify, never finishing below third place.
In an email interview, head coach John Fuchs said the past does not dictate the present.
“The goal has always been the same — have fun, learn and do the best we can,” said Fuchs. “We don’t compare ourselves to the past year’s competitive success. The present and immediate future is where we look.”
The team will compete in seven events this year. Beginning in March, the spotlight will be on the Vikings in five events across Washington, followed by the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. The team’s goal will be to end the season as first place at the NCAA Division II National Championships on May 29-31, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Senior rower and co-captain Carly Lant said the team has their eyes on the prize. “This year we’ve all pretty much stated that that’s the team goal: to win the national championship,” Lant said.
Western’s last title came in 2017. Although Lant was on the roster, she was not one of the rowers selected to compete in the championship race. Lant is one of the remaining four members of the 2017 championship team. This year, she is looking for a trophy of her own.
“We’re pretty motivated,” Lant said.
Although the season takes place in the spring, the team has already begun winter training sessions in both Carver Gymnasium and on Lake Samish in Bellingham.
The harsh weather of January in Whatcom County can make for cold mornings on the lake, but the team says it only makes them stronger. The team practices at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday and at 7 a.m. on Saturdays.
“You definitely need a drive,” said senior coxswain and team co-captain Jonah Bettger. “[Lant] and I have discussed that we want to hit winter hard. Spring is easy, but winter can be hard because of the weather. You need passion to wake up at 4 a.m.”
However, the captains agree that it only benefits the team. Bettger said that although the conditions can be physically and mentally difficult, going through it as a team builds camaraderie and leads to a stronger team bond.
“A big reason the team is more cohesive this year is, for one, because trauma brings people together,” Lant joked. “Whether it's tears after we lose or tears after we win, having those similar experiences makes those goals a lot clearer as a captain. It’s easier to guide a team who knows what they want.”
Despite the challenges the weather presents, the team stays driven by their common goal of a national championship. Every day gets a little easier, Fuchs said.
“Every day the sun rises a little earlier. Every day we inch closer to the racing and having fun. [We have] to be tough and enjoy the process.”
The 2020 team consists mostly of walk-ons, as only a handful rowed competitively prior to Western. This creates both a unique challenge and opportunity for Fuchs and the experienced members of the team.
“It makes our team pretty special,” Lant said, who previously rowed for the Bainbridge Island Rowing Club and whose father rowed for Western from 1982 to 1984. “It takes a specific kind of person to want to do this every day. But if you have that mindset, you’re going to want it and you’re going to want to compete for a national championship.”
As captains of a young team with high aspirations, both Lant and Bettger have an added level of motivation for this season.
“My number one goal for this year is to just be supportive,” Bettger said. “I’m so honored to be a captain [and] to be able to hear that my girls chose me as captain is just driving me to be there for them so much more.”